Saturday, February 3, 2007

Driving Mr. Grasso

January 27th-29th was perhaps the most fun birthday weekend I've ever had (I just turned -- gulp -- 37 on January 29th!)

Saturday, the 27th -- I rented a tiny car and drove over 100 miles to the University of Limerick where my friend Eliot Grasso (uilleann piper) was attending a masters program in ethnomusicology.
It didn't take me too long to get used to driving on the left hand side of the road -- with the steering wheel positioned on the right (thank goodness it was an automatic transmission!). I only got honked at once, someone gave me "the finger" in Dublin, I went through one red light, made one turn onto the wrong lane of a road -- but other than that, I did just grand.

I spent a few hours with Eliot and Kate at their apartment, walked around Limerick a bit, picking up a rare copy of "The Petrie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland" -- which Eliot highly recommended -- at a Celtic bookstore in town.

I had originally planned to drive up to Doolin (in County Clare) and spend the night at a B&B there. However, I had began toreconsider after Randal Bays told me all the great musicians he knew in that once famous music town are now dead -- except for one great fiddle player named James Cullinane. Also, Eliot just happened to be needing to go back to Dublin the next day -- so I decided to just crash at Eliot's place for the night and just drive him back.
I was glad I did. I was glad to have the company on the drive out the next morning --- besides, Eliot is a better driver than I am (and unlike me, does not suffer from A.D.D.). I only got white knuckles just once or twice around some narrow bends as we drove by the 600-feet-high Cliffs of Moher.
The night before, dug up a nice collection of piping and fiddle music from Willie Clancy, Seamus Ennis, Robbie Hannan, Johnny Doran, James Cullinane and others. It was the most profound harmonic convergence of sight, sound and history as we drove through County Clare, through the town of Miltown Malbay (home of the Willie Clancy Summer School), AND listening to Willie Clancy's piping, AND sitting in a car next to a world-class piper himself (Eliot Grasso), as he described the intricacies of the uilleann pipes, and the subtleties in style that differentiate the sounds Seamus Ennis from Willie, from Johnny Doran, etc. It was absolutely amazing, and surreal.
I had made plans to visit the Poulnabrone dolmen, Clonmacnoise Abbey and a few other places. However -- I'd forgotten how long it really takes to get around some of these small roads in the west of Ireland, and had to drop a few items off my agenda, since we wanted to arrive in Dublin by 4pm or shortly after. The detour to the Cliffs of Moher was absoultely stunning, however.

We also made a brief stop at some castle north of Doolin -- where we got out of the car and literally walked around the entire castle. I had hoped to find some door leading inside -- but we ended up merely circumscribing the entire castle wall without finding one. (I guess that's what a castle is for -- to keep the enemy out. Duh!).
Later one, we started heading toward the N6 back to Dublin. It was then that Eliot noticed this curious little piece of paper stuck under the windshield wiper blade. What in the world was that for? I didn't remember doing anything illegal.

"Hey! What's that piece of paper stuck on the windshield?" Eliot remarked (it was on his side of the car). "WHOOPS! --- There it goes!" (as it sailed off the wieldshield, lost forever somewhere into County Clare).
Oh dear.
It's been a week now -- and the Garda (Irish police) have not shown up at my door yet. So I'm guessing it was just an innocent piece of trash or some irrelevant advertisement.

It was about 2pm -- we were just past the town of Athone. We wanted to get back to Dublin for a special recital at Na Piobairi Uilleann (Dublin's Uillean Piper's Society) -- which was going to feature Frankie Gavin on fiddle and Sean Og Potts (son of the great Sean Potts -- founding member of the Chieftains and an original member of Sean O'Riada's group "Ceoltoiri Cualann". ). His uncle Tommy Potts, a Dublin fiddler, composed the tune "The Butterfly" (which happens to be on my latest CD!).
We finally made it back to 15 Henrietta Street in Dublin (home of Na Piobairi Uilleann: ) about 4:30pm -- only to be greeted by a sign that said "Sorry -- house full". Undaunted, Eliot knocked on the door anyway -- and we were let inside to sit on the stairway just outside the recital room (we couldn't see a thing -- and a half a dozen people were lined up the stairs). There was some piper playing at the time.
Finally, at about 5pm -- Frankie Gavin comes down the stairs with his fiddle.

Now: Eliot had given me a big talk about avoiding this foolish notion of idolizing Irish musicians -- that they're just ordinary people, a part of a big community, and that we shouldn't get caught up in all the glitzy, singular celebrity mindset that plagues the rest of the music industry. Still: I couldn't help feeling just a bit faint and fluttery in my stomach as Frankie Gavin stood just a few inches away from me! (and I ALREADY feel that way just standing in the presense of Eliot, practically the greatest piper on the planet -- and who makes a pretty decent batch of scrambled eggs on top of that!

After Frankie played his 30 minutes, we finally managed to squeeze into the room to watch Sean Og Potts play the uilleann pipes.

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